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5 Health Habits It's Okay To Skip

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WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Virginia Sole-Smith
Redbook Magazine Logo
Do you really need to eat breakfast every day? Here, five "must-do's" you can think twice about.


Don't tell your mother we said so, but she wasn't right about everything -- at least not when it comes to your health. Research shows that some of those habits you've been told to maintain aren't backed up by much evidence, or even plain old common sense. Five "must-do's" you can think twice about:

1. Eating breakfast every day.

"We have no good evidence that you need to eat the minute your feet hit the floor in the morning," says David Katz, M.D., an associate professor of public health at the Yale School of Public Health. Though studies have found that breakfast eaters are less prone to obesity and other health problems, research also shows that if you eat breakfast, you're more likely to engage in other healthy behaviors, such as exercising and getting plenty of sleep -- and experts aren't sure which of these habits is really keeping you trim.

"What we do know is that skipping breakfast as a weight-loss strategy tends to backfire; it causes you to overeat later in the day," says Katz. Also remember that what you eat matters more (for your weight and your health) than when you eat: i.e., grabbing a doughnut as you run out the door is not better than nothing. "Wait until you're hungry and then reach for something nutritious," Katz advises.

2. Doing a monthly breast self-exam.

Good news for those of us who, ahem, never get around to doing a breast self-exam (BSE): "You don't have to do them," says Christy Russell, M.D., chair of the Breast Cancer Advisory Group of the American Cancer Society. True, ob/gyns once recommended them, but several clinical trials have shown that women who perform BSEs are no more likely to survive breast cancer if they find a lump than those who do not perform them. "If your lump is big enough that you can feel it, your cancer is already more advanced than if it had been found earlier by mammography, which reduces your chances of survival," says Russell. BSEs also come with a high rate of false positives: One clinical trial found that women who performed them had double the rate of biopsies as women who did not, but the vast majority of the lumps turned out to be benign.

You should, however, start scheduling an annual mammogram at age 40. (Women who have the breast cancer gene or a first-degree relative with the disease should start getting one between ages 25 and 30.) And experts agree that you should still take a "hands-on approach" and be familiar with your breasts so you can spot any major changes (and immediately inform your gynecologist).

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